Every day, Anne Johnson looks forward to her evening routine.
- The small rural town of Eidsvold will lose free-to-air commercial TV and SBS today
- The local council says it cannot afford to maintain the local transmission tower
- Local residents say TV plays a crucial role in keeping the community connected to the outside world
“I come in, after a long day of mowing or around the yard,” she said.
“Seven o’clock is for Home and Away.
“And then we just sit back and watch whatever’s on.”
But after today, Ms Johnson will no longer be able to access her favourite shows.
She is one of 600 residents in the rural Queensland town of Eidsvold who will lose the majority of their free-to-air television service after the local council decided to close the transmission tower.
“It’s disgraceful,” she said.
“In all my time, I don’t know of any other place that’s lost their TV coverage.”
Ms Johnson said the closure would send the town “back to the dark old days”.
“I mean, it’s a given that you should get free-to-air TV; it’s just normal.
“We’re being treated like we’re not normal anymore.”
The North Burnett Regional Council decided in April 2021 to close the tower today.
It means Eidsvold and some surrounding properties will lose access to all commercial television stations and SBS, but will continue to receive ABC services through a separate tower.
The closure has angered residents, who say TV is a crucial lifeline for the isolated community.
Noel Thompson said it was “not fair” and that the town was being forgotten.
“They’re taking so much away from us,” he said.
“It’s so important to people to have their local TV. We’ve got no pub, we’ve got nowhere to go, nothing to do at night.”
North Burnett Regional Council CEO Margot Stork said the decision to close the tower was made after the council had maintained the infrastructure for more than a decade.
“That decision was made for two reasons — one being the cost of continuing the service and the changes to television services over the period.
“Secondly, this is not a core business of council to be providing these retransmission services.”
The council would not comment on the cost to maintain the tower but said “alternatives were considered” before the decision was made.
A Broadcast Australia spokesperson said it did not have data on the number of towns that had lost access to television stations, but that it was “not frequent”.
The organisation said the last time it happened “at any scale” was in 2010 to 2012 when viewers converted from analogue to digital television.
‘Cut off from the world’
Eidsvold, a small rural town about 400 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, has one of the highest proportions of Indigenous residents in Queensland.
North Burnett Community Service CEO Yasmin Barber said television played a vital role in keeping the community connected.
“Given our rural nature, we’re already quite isolated and we don’t have access to a lot of services and activities,” she said.
“So I’m actually really concerned from a social isolation perspective.
“We’ve had lots of people who have come to us and expressed distress about what they’re going to be able to do.
“For better or worse,TV is their kind of social interaction for a lot of the time and how they feel connected to the outside world.”
Wakka Wakka elder Max Chapman said the removal of free-to-air TV would leave residents in limbo.
“We’ve got nothing here,” he said.
“I’m an old-age pensioner. I can’t be going around to parties or down to the pub. We don’t even have a pub.
“[Television] is about the only thing in life to keep us going.
“It gives us something to do.”
Alternatives ‘out of reach’
The North Burnett Regional Council said Eidsvold residents would be able to access free-to-air TV through a federal government service known as VAST.
“Community members are invited to actually speak with electricians within their area to look at what necessary infrastructure needs to be put in place in their household to connect,” Ms Stork said.
But Ms Barber said set-up costs and connectivity issues meant many in the community would go without TV altogether.
“I just spoke to one of our local sparkies and he said the new set-up is $800 straight up and for any additional TVs it’s $350 on top of that,” she said.
“So that is just significantly out of reach for the vast majority of people in our community.”
She said limited internet and telephone service made the loss of TV reception more devastating.
“Some people say, ‘People can stream if they have access to the internet’, but we already know the uptake of NBN and other internet services is very low and it’s very expensive.
“There’s poor telephone service too. You can only get Telstra mobile coverage and that’s patchy at best.
“So there’s a whole range of compounding things that really make this a significant issue for the people of Eidsvold.”